Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why have we forgotten Fukushima Daiichi?

Left a comment underneath this video on YoutTube, expressing concern that so little information is coming out of Japan after such a terrible incident. (Update August 6th 2011: Never moderated, so a waste of time sending it in). World's media have dropped the story and I have been especially very disappointed in NHK Radio Japan's poor coverage in what must be the most important story out of Japan in decades.  Frankly, this update from IAEA is very worrying. It says nothing and therefore does not reassure. My comment is awaiting moderation. I wonder if it will ever be published. In the meantime a massive 2500 people have watched this video, i.e. no-one.

VOA Answers Censorship Charge

I think Steve Redisch is being too defensive. VOA Management should have separated the US Broadcasting Board of Governors' visit to Africa from the issues surrounding the "42 page" document handed over to the BBG. It turns out it’s a transcript of coverage on VOA Amharic Service (as intrepreted and selected by the Ethiopian government) of discussions, events, meetings, congresses where subjects about human rights in the Horn have been discussed. They quote from reports about events that took place and opinions aired infront of VOA microphones from participants. I don't understand why this report is "secret"…It's not a list of complaints, although I can imagine the Ethiopian government would be happier if these ideas and opionions are not heard in their country. Bearing in mind the total hours of broadcasting to the region, if this is all the news about political opposition that is being aired, then it represents a tiny proportion of the whole output to the region.

VOA took down a report about the BBG visit on its website because the editor in chief decided that the original report was inaccurate and didn't follow the VOA Charter. Doesn't sound like censorship - more a case of an editorial difference of opinion which should have been aired internally before it went on the air.

The audience in Ethiopia seems to be huge without any local FM relays. It’s the reason the authorities jam the shortwave broadcasts, although not very effectively.

VOA Newsroom Management would be wise to openly distance themselves from the discussion between the BBG and the Ethiopian government. The BBG may, thru diplomatic negotiation, secure deals with governments to permit enhanced coverage through local FM outlets. It has worked in other countries, and it has helped make media be more open in several countries. Indonesia is a good example. But whatever they negotiate should not be on the basis of an agreement by BBG to influence the current output from VOA in any shape or form. So, if the deal was to review or reduce coverage of any thinking other than the Ethiopian government line, in return for local relays of health information, then that's a rather weak BBG negotiation strategy.

If the US government firewall and the VOA Charter has any meaning, then the BBG wouldn't get involved in any content discussions, especially on political coverage. If the Ethiopian government won't allow VOA relays on FM, then it shows weakness on behalf of that government not any reason for VOA to change the balance of its editorial content. Unlike areas where the influence of shortwave broadcasting has declined, (e.g. Russia, South Africa, and China) VOA, DW, BBC broadcasts to that the Horn command huge audiences using traditional SW technology. FM reboadcasts would simply be the icing on the cake.

As far as I know, VOA has always had an ongoing complaints procedure. Anyone is welcome to object if they feel they have been unfairly covered in a broadcast. So what's different now?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Pixar Montage

And to think this editor has just turned 18. Now what will Pixar do. Ask Youtube to take it down? Or put a montage like this on the front of every Blu-Ray sold? If I was in the biz, I'd hire him tomorrow. Interesting to see how quickly the views are climbing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Avoid the word exciting

Just as sound engineers in Hollywood have their inside jokes about the Wilhelm Scream which gets used over and over, I think PR types writing press releases for tech exhibitions like IBC have their own version. They describe their stand, talk or product development as "exciting". Interesting, useful, evolutionary, perhaps. But exciting? No. Very occasionally awesome perhaps. But the overuse this year has become infectious it would appear.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Starting to get curious

Starting to get curious as to what Apple is building in the Hirschgebouw building right next to Leidseplein in Amsterdam. The OneMoreThing blog in Rotterdam has seen the proposed architectural drawings and notes that objections to changes that Apple wants to make to the listed building have been waived aside in favour of the obvious economic interests the city has in having such a store. For the moment at least, no word about when it opens. I guess it will be in time for the Christmas shopping scene. Will they give it a Dutch touch, or will it essentially be like all the other stores in Europe but then in the Netherlands? I guess the latter.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When Podcasts are better than the original...

This article seems to confuse production with distribution. There are some brilliant podcasts out there which are available to download individually or you can subscribe to it through iTunes as a podcast. Podcasting to me has always been about subscribing to a favorite programme and having it pushed out to you, instead of having to go somewhere to pick it up each time.

Podcasting via the Apple Platform has always been an afterthought. If you use iTunes outside the UK, then you have to make do with the archaic iTunes interface which is linked to the iTunes store in your country. So in my case, the iPad keeps bouncing between Dutch and English, booting me out of the English language podcasts I follow and sending me off to the Dutch podcasts each time I update.

The fact that you can record and mix audio on any laptop has inspired a few people to come up with very creative formats which wouldn't work on the radio because they are perceived by the radio bosses as too specialist. I'm glad that This Week in Google isn't on the radio, for instance.

I'm also starting to see examples where the podcast is becoming better than the radio programme. A good example is the radio version of Click! which used to be called Digital Planet until a few months ago. The show was recently reduced in length from 28 to 18 minutes a week as part of the cuts to BBC World Service. Those involved haven't yet got used to the new rhythm and what's we're really getting is a truncated and rather breathless version of the older programme with what sounds like rather forced link-ups with the TV show and two line promos for other science programmes on BBC World Service radio. I've stopped listening to it on air because I know that the podcast version is longer, contains more reflective and relaxed extras and can fit into a more natural listening length for a format of this type, which is about half an hour for me. Strange that the BBC spends money on putting the TV version into a useful web/Tv context, but doesn't do the same with the radio programme where they appear to have to resort to other platforms to engage with their audience. The radio webpage is the true definition of dull...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Survivors Guide to IBC 2011 - Forget the conference

Just got off the phone with colleagues in the broadcast industry working in the US wondering if the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam is going to be worth the trip this year. My feeling is that if you are somehow involved in (re)-building a television network, then IBC is a great place to shop, compare prices, and ask difficult questions to vendors. You fight through the traffic jams for the exhibition.

But you can now safely ignore the conference. It's vastly overpriced and it is much too broad in scope. Whereas the exhibition is certainly international, the conference is very Anglo-centric to the point where the issues discussed are far more relevant to the Thames Valley than anywhere else on the planet. The exhibition and the conference have always been unhappy partners. Have you noticed how there is no mention of the conference in the exhibition halls - I presume because the stand holders want you to visit their stands, not wander off to some other distraction. So if you're shopping for stuff, then come to IBC. If you want to discuss your part of the business - and its interaction with social media platforms or gaming, then there are much better conferences and workshops for much less money than the IBC wants to charge. 1899 Euros on site for the Silver Pass, and 2999 for the VIP treatment (i.e. lunch in a special room and a "gift") must be difficult to justify for those working for tax-payer financed broadcasting organisations. Gone are the days when those selling broadcast equipment would jet around the world like they were movie stars. IBC should either cancel its attempts at running a conference, or move it to London at a separate time.

Because, let's face it, the IBC exhibition needs some maintenance too. The trade press covering the broadcast industry is happy to reprint advertorials - critical journalism in this sector has collapsed because the publishers aren't willing to commission any research or investigative reporting. They need to look sideways at what the Broadband, gaming or AV Industry has managed to develop. I find it incredible that they spend so much money on IBC-TV News, broadcasting to hotels in the Amsterdam area, and then just stick all the interviews in a list for the rest of the year. No context and dubious content does not attract an audience. Most of the interviews are examples of ego-TV and altogether it doesn't radiate to me that this is an industry doing well. Most of the items look like pretty desperate sales pitches in front of a company logo. Or have you had vastly different experiences?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Are Technoexperts Replacing Broadcast Journalism?

I think so. I get the impression the US State Department is seriously side lining the activities of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors. Statements by Hilary Clinton earlier in the year would indicate that they are far more interested in "technoexpert" projects and the main competitor in the information technology war is China. These new projects focus on giving information access to "freedom" groups in foreign countries rather than broadcasting into those same areas. It's becoming a pull strategy rather than push.

The US State department is doing all kinds of technology projects (read Internet Firewall getarounds) in various target areas. But it is also organising more and more very strange content projects like TechWomen. I note the list of partners for the Anita Borg Institute includes Thomson Reuters and the US National Security Agency. Strange bedfellows. Room for all kinds of confusion and misinformation there. But that's probably part of the plan. It looks like the people who used to run clandestine radio stations and black propaganda projects are now doing the same kind of thing on Twitter, Facebook and the web in general. However, there is a difference. The radio stuff was targeted at specific audiences. The web activities go global very quickly. All this kind of Strategic Communication was outlined in Nick Davies' book "Flat-Earth News". He concluded that technically it was very clever. But on a content side it was very crude and ineffective.

The US BBG is supposed to be coming out with a new strategic plan very shortly, now that new directors for both Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have been appointed. Very curious.
Hilary Clinton had some interesting remarks when she testified on funding for US State Departent programs and foreign policy priorities March 2nd. The most telling comments came when she appeared to be off script. Note her remarks about how the US has basically one main competitor in the world - China, almost exactly 41 minutes into the session.

For those of us following international broadcasting affairs, the remarks that start 50 minutes into the session are one of several remarkable comments during this long session.

It looks to me like the State Department and US International Broadcasting are doing all kinds of uncoordinated activities all connected with "new media". You don't want to sit through 2 hrs 40" of testimony, but there are some interesting highlights if you can manoeuvre through the rather erratic  C-SPAN player.

(45'54") We hear about websites for entrepreneurs running in Egypt.

(50'52") We learn that the US is engaged in an information war.

“In fact viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners,” she added.

Clinton said that the US has dropped the ball since the Cold War, when VOA and others US broadcasts were influential. “We have not really kept up with the times,” Clinton argued.

“We are in information war and we cannot assume that this youth bulge that exists not just in the Middle East but in so many parts of the world really knows much about us. I mean we think they know us and reject us, I would argue the really don’t know very much about who we are,” she said, noting that America’s legacy of the Cold War, World War Two, and President Kennedy are lost on newer generations.

Clinton’s State Department has tried to keep up, especially on social media, where this year they have started Tweeting in Arabic, Farsi, and other languages.  “Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened up a global English language and multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English language network (Russia Today, or RT which they call themselves now). I’ve seen it in a couple of countries and it’s quite instructive.”

They must have been "high fiving" it in Doha and Moscow with endorsements like that!  Even though Clinton didn’t name names, she was placing the blame for “ceding what we are most expert in to somebody else” on every administration since Reagan, including that of her husband. But what really struck me were the offhand comments much later in the testimony, when she revealed that the competition is really with the Chinese. That struck home bearing in mind the 36000 Chinese that were in Libya until the uprisings compared to Westerners. I'm wonder who's responsible for the destruction of a Chinese oil installation in Libya? 

According to the LA Times, and several other sources, China has evacuated an estimated 36,000 of its workers from war-torn Libya, chartering buses, sending jetliners, even dispatching its navy to escort civilian rescue vessels. Beijing state-controlled media have trumpeted the effort as a sign of China's strength. But China's deep involvement with the North African dictatorship has also exposed a vulnerability in the world's second-largest economy. China is now the third-largest buyer of Libyan crude behind Italy and France. European and American oil firms have worked in Libya for years, but their governments have long sought to punish Kadafi for terrorist ties. Meanwhile, China has stuck to a hands-off policy it has dubbed "non-interventionism."

FM Reception limps back into action

It seems the Lopik FM Radio/Digital TV transmitter tower (pictured above. Photo is from Wikipedia) is resuming service this evening around 18 UTC, now that new antenna cables have been installed. This complete shut-down of one of the most important broadcast towers in the Netherlands follows a small fire on Friday. I find it incredible that the agency responsible (NOVEC) clearly doesn't have a communications plan in place to explain to the public what's going on, when services will be resumed, etc. Novec has apparently carried out checks at other sites in the Netherlands and reported to the media that things are normal. According to official sources, it doesn't look at though the fires were connected or that they were started deliberately. But supposing they had? Why don't they tell the public directly? I notice that the website has been snapped up by a alarm network Callmax which doesn't help matters.

Reception of commercial networks in the centre of the country has been very variable from temporary transmitters. The Business News Radio network has installed a temporary transmitter in Gilze. Reception of Q-music, Sky Radio and Radio Veronica in the North of the Netherlands seems to have improved due to adjustments to the power at other transmitter sites. 100percentNL says that reception has been unaffected.

The public networks say that FM transmitters on the towers in Hilversum, North Holland and Tjerkgaas in Friesland have been brought on the air to help fill the gap. The relief from the transmitter in Hilversum for Radio 1 was short lived as it broke down on Saturday evening. The public broadcasters have decided to continue with the relay of Radio 1 instead of Radio 5 on 747 kHz for the time being.

A temporary mast is being built at the Johan Willem Friso Dutch army barracks in Assen. This will be used until a new mast is built on the top of the tower in Smilde. It's bizarre that this old Dutch army barracks, threatened with closure at the end of last year, is pixellated out on Google Earth, but in the clear on most Youtube videos. Looks quaint more than anything else.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Smith-Mundt - Still Crazy after all these years

The US Broadcasting Board of Governors is clearly taking action to try and get the so-called Smith-Mundt Act changed. Viewed from this side of the Atlantic, the Smith-Mundt bill seems to be an archaic piece of law that is no longer relevant in an age of Internet and satellite. This complicated piece of legislation is explained in detail in this comprehensive piece by Matt Amstrong. Here are a few extracts:

In May 1947 the Smith-Mundt Bill was introduced to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as the State Department. The House passed the bill in December and on January 7, 1948, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in recommending the Senate pass the legislation, stated that propaganda campaigns against the U.S. by Communists around the world called for “urgent, forthright, and dynamic measures to disseminate truth.” President Truman signed the bill into law on January 27, 1948.

Supporting the bill, Secretary of State George C. Marshall said that we must make known “what our motives are, what our actions have been and what we have done to assist peoples outside our borders. It is very hard for us here at home (in the USA) to comprehend the degree with which we are not comprehended and the degree with which we are misrepresented.”

The Act originally read that the Secretary of State is “authorized…to provide for the preparation, and dissemination abroad, of information” about the U.S. through various mediums and means. This material was to be available “for examination” in the U.S. by the media and

This changed in 1972 when Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR) argued America’s international broadcasting should take its “rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics” as he successfully amended the Act to read that any program material “shall not be disseminated” within the U.S. and that material shall be available “for examination only” to the media, academia, and Congress (P.L. 95-352 Sec. 204). In 1985, Senator Edward Zorinsky (D-NE) declared
USIA would be no different than an organ of Soviet propaganda if its products were to be available domestically. The Act was amended to read: “no program material prepared by the United States Information Agency shall be distributed within the United States” (P.L. 99-93). At least one court interpreted this language to mean USIA products were to be exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. In response, the Act was amended again in 1990 to permit domestic distribution of program material “12 years after the initial dissemination” abroad.

Not sure where they got the 12 years from. Back to the present.

Executive Director of the BBG Jeff Trimble briefed the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy on July 12th about the Board's position on Smith-Mundt, particularly seeking to repeal the ban on domestic dissemination of BBG broadcast material. Trimble argued that in a global media environment where U.S. international broadcasting stories go viral, are picked up by media competitors and aggregators, and often are played back to the U.S. public, a new examination of Smith-Mundt is very much in order. For example, in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, BBG worked with Sirius satellite radio on a proposal to make VOA Creole products available on radios to be donated by Sirius to Haitian citizens. This required Congressional approval as these broadcasts were then also available to U.S. audiences although they were not targeted to them.

I wonder whether the BBG will encourage US international broadcasting to build international bridges between stations in the US and stations in other parts of the world? Say VOA did a live call-in programme involving a station in San Francisco, a station in Colombia, and its network of VOA affiliates elsewhere in Latin America. Can the station in San Francisco broadcast the programme locally? Can VOA make use of the huddle in Google+ like KOMU in Missouri has started doing? In other words, can there be editorial collaboration as well as distribution under the new Smith-Mundt?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mediumwave back-up to cover two serious fires in FM Towers in Netherlands

Rather spectacular fire this afternoon in the TV/Radio/Mobile mast in Hoogersmilde in the province of Drente. A fire broke out at 12 hrs UTC in the top section of the mast which houses antennas, leading to its total collapse as shown in the video above around 90 minutes later. No-one was injured. The area around the mast was cleared by the police but it is farmland and no damage was done to property. A horse was slightly wounded by some of the flying debris. The video was made by the local Radio and TV station, RTVDrenthe.

Engineers working in the tower discovered the fire and concluded it was unsafe to continue. They evacuated the tower and called the emergency services. Fire fighters were quickly on the scene but it quickly became obvious that there was little chance of fighting the fire, since it occurred 80 metres above the ground.

Digitenne (digital terrestrial TV service similar to UK's Freeview) has been off the air as well as the local repeaters for Sky Radio, Radio Veronica, BNR, Slam!FM, Q-music and 100procentNL. They are working on efforts to restore services.

The programmes of Radio 1 (national public radio news network) have replaced the music programmes on Radio 5 broadcast on 747 kHz AM from the Flevopolder.

FM reception in Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe and parts of the province of Overijssel of both public and commercial networks has been seriously affected.

But the problems are infact wider, extending into areas around Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam which are served by another transmitter site. Earlier in the day a smaller fire also broke out at the TV/Radio mast in IJsselstein (Lopik) which means that transmitting centre is also off the air until further notice while the site is inspected by the fire departments and police.

Early official statements indicate that the two fires were not related, but it's too early to draw definite conclusions. The public FM radio networks of Radio 1, Radio 2, 3FM and Radio 4 have lost around 75% of their national coverage as a result of these two fires. Cable and satellite relays of the programmes have been unaffected. Source., nosnieuws. There are also more photos and video on the website of RTVDrenthe, which is running a special page instead of its usual website. I note the BBC site carried these pictures but without sound...perhaps they realised that people next to the camera were swearing. I think I would have done the same....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

HitchHikers Guide to Dxing Re-Released

It is thirty years ago since I wrote a rather silly parody on international radio broadcasting and based on my favourite radio series at the time, the Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. There seemed to be so much to make fun of at the time...the boring propaganda at the height of the Cold War, jamming, the waste of energy shouting from one country to another, and the variable quality of reaction from listeners. I don't think it was the listeners's fault that most of the feedback was very technical, to do with signal strength and QSL cards rather than comments on the programme. May be people were being too polite. My father would often answer the door to religious groups by apologizing that he couldn't continue the conversation because we were "drisopholia"in this house. It was years later that I looked it up and understood the wry smile on his face as he closed the door. It seems like an excellent name for a character in this fantasy visit to Radio Politzania, the place where all shortwave signals really come from.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Brilliant TV and Radio Widget for GooglePlus

I really think Google+ is a big threat to LinkedIn and Facebook because it is so much easier to form useful collaborative groups, and add useful feeds including on-line radio and TV stations. the widget is still crude, but it's a spark of genius. Flipboard should integrate it into their next release.

Dutch logic on the motorway

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Rather startled to see this sign in the polder while travelling North in The Netherlands the other day. During the day the speed limit is 120, at night it's 130. I thought the visibility would be better when it is light...